Potato sacks. Someone has to print the labels on them.
All the workers are immigrants or high school dropouts. Everyone is covered in sweat and hessian fibres. Everyone is in a trance. Repetitive work. Deafening noise. I drive the forklift up to the baler, slide it's pincers under a finished bale. Check no one is behind me. Reverse, and drive the new bale down to huge piles near the loading doors.
The office door opens. The floor manager yells out to me. I can't hear him. I lower the bale into position while he crosses the factory floor over to me. Circles of sweat mark the armpits of his shirt.
"Dan," he yells. "Phone. Your mum."
I kill the forklift, walk back with him to the office.
"Hello?" I say into the phone.
"Dan," says Mum. She sounds fragile, like she's been crying. "I'm sorry to call you at work, son. But I got a phone call. From St. Mary's Hospital."
"Hospital?" The floor manager is shuffling paperwork on his desk, pretending not to listen.
"It's Tom," Mum says. And stops.
Tom. My brother. The bastard. "What's he done now?"
"The police found him this morning. Car crash, they said."
And she stops again. Not a sob or a choke. Just the silence of someone too drained to speak. Details swim before me- the clamour of the presses. The hessian fibres itching the back of my neck. The bikini screensaver on the floor manager's computer. I realise why Mum's called.
Tom's dead. My brother is dead.
"Give me the address," I say. "I'll be there soon."
Driving. The sun is fierce. No chance of a breeze- the air is all hot dust and petrol fumes. I wind down the windows of my ute anyway, and think.
A crucifix dangles rom my rear-view mirror. A present from my dead father. My dad died three years ago, lungs eaten away by cancer. Mum sat beside his hospital bed the whole time. Crying. He had been built like all the men in my family, short and thick like shaved gorillas. But he was gentle as a puppy. He used to stand behind her while she cooked, stroking her back and whispering jokes in her ear.
Mum adored my father.
And I sat with her while she watched him die. Holding her hand. Fetching inadequate cups of tea. Wishing there was something I could do to stop the pain that tore her apart.
Tom never showed up once.
He was in Africa. Doing drugs. Six weeks after the funeral he came back, unshaven and sunburnt, and asked if Dad was out buying booze. I broke his nose for that.
St. Mary's Hospital looms up, bland beige bricks and tiny windows. It looks more like a housing commission flat than a place of healing. There's air conditioning inside. Middle aged nurses in ugly blue uniforms.
Patients, all with the same defeated expression. Phones ringing. Keyboards clicking. I feel out of place in my overalls and factory dirt.
In one of the bathrooms I stop to wash myself up. The air is chill and silent. A face looks out of the mirror's cold glass. My father. My brother. Me.
Think about Mum, I tell myself. Don't get spooked now.
A shadow moves behind me, cast by the florescent light.
Don't get spooked now.
There are signs outside in the corridor. One of them directs me to the morgue.
Mum is sitting in the waiting room. Funny how normal it looks. Imitation leather couches. Out of date magazines. A water cooler in the corner. Two men are sitting with my mother- a young, blonde police officer with acne on his left cheek, and a middle-aged Asian doctor in a suit.
Mum is hunched over a plastic up of water, eyes unfocused. She looks up as I enter.
"Dan." She turns to the two men. "This is my son, Dan Moore. Son, this is Sergeant Reynolds and Doctor Fong."
I nod. I sit beside her, place an awkward arm over her shoulder. I wish I had my father's ease at affection. I don't.
The sergeant leans forward. His voice is soft, sympathetic. "I was just telling your mother-- a motorist reported seeing a car crash on the Calder Highway at about six this morning. We sent a police car and an ambulance straight away. But it looks like your brother was already--"
"Dead?" I finish for him.
The police man nods. "His car seems to have run off the road and hit a tree. It would been over instantly."
"Was anyone else hurt?"
"No. No passengers. No other vehicles involved." The sergeant clears his throat. "It looks like your brother was driving under the influence. We found alcohol in his sytem. And drugs."
He shrugs, apologetically.
"So-- do you need us to identify the body?"
"No. We have fingerprints, dental records. There's just some forms for his personal effects. You'll have to come down to the station to sign off for the wreck."
"Can we see him anyway?" asks Mum.
The doctor leans forward. "You might want to wait. Let the funeral home tidy him up."
"He's my son," says Mum. "I've seen dead people before."
I squeeze her shoulder. "Let me go first, Mum. Just in case."
The doctor guides me to the morgue. A chill room full of stainless steel drawers. I worked in a supermarket coldroom once. It reminds me of that.
"Are you sure?" asks Doctor Fong.
"Better me than her."
He slides open a drawer. A body lies on it, covered in a white sheet. The doctor folds it back carefully, just revealing the head.
My brother looks up at me. Eyes closed. The left side of his head is crushed in, a drained and horrible mess. His flesh looks rubbery. It looks like meat. It looks dead.
The tattoos on his neck are stark against his maggot white skin. He's thinner than when I last saw him. Is that death or drugs?.
I can still see the resemblance.
"Okay," I tell the doctor.
He folds the sheet back, slides the drawer away. We walk back to the waiting room in silence. Mother watches me, expectantly.
"Wait 'till the funeral home," I tell her.
We sign the forms. The police sergeant gives us a plastic bag of Tom's possessions. Blood stained clothes. A wallet. A set of keys. I drive Mum home, make her tea, throw the clothes in the garbage.
"We'll need to organise the funeral," says Mum. She hasn't cried once. She's like me. Stoic. Repressed. "What sort of service would Tom want?"
We're all lapsed Catholics. Some more lapsed than others.
All afternoon I call funeral parlours. We discuss the bureaucracy of death. How much will the coffin cost. What type of service. Where will he be buried. I concentrate on the boring details. I try not remember the corpse in the coldroom.
"Did he have a will?" Mum asks. She has her old photo books on her lap, pictures of us as children.
"I'm surprised he even had a car." I regret saying it instantly. Mum isn't crying, but her eyes are red.
I kneel down beside her. Try to rub her back the way my father used to.
"You two never got along," she says. "He was always such a black sheep. And you were always so good."
She presses her head against my neck. The tears don't flow.
I take time off work.
Attached to Tom's keys is a slip of paper with the address of his flat. He must have just moved in. I go round there the next morning to collect his stuff. Mum wants to come with me, but I leave her with friends.
I know Tom too well. She doesn't need to see his home.
The flat is a dingy bedsit. No furniture at all. Just a sleeping bag on the floor, empty pizza boxes and beer stubbies piled by the bin. A used syringe. And an open suitcase stuffed with faded jeans, a passport, porno mags.
The passport has stamps from all over South-East Asia. Tom's big drug tour. Under all the clothing is a big plastic shopping bag, printed with some Asian language I can't read. Vietnamese or Thai or something. I tip it open.
An oriental knife, blade curved, intricate carvings on the handle. Computer printouts off the Internet- alt.magick, 'A Guide to Goethic Ritual'. And stash of photos. Tom outside a Cambodian temple. Tom on an elephant. Tom leaning against a statue of a demon. Tom fucking prostitutes.
I don't look at the rest.
I shovel everything back into the bag and go use the toilet.